Is your echeveria dying, and you are not sure why? don’t worry; I have lots of experience saving succulents such as echeveria. I always think it’s important to understand how your plant grows in the wild for you to understand how to save it…
Echeveria are succulents native to dry, desert environments and are adapted to full sun, infrequent rainfall, and warm temperatures and grow in gritty, well-draining soil.
In my experience, the reason most common reason for a dying echeveria is usually because of overwatering and poor drainage, which results in the leaves turning yellow, mushy, and dying back. Drooping leaves and tall stems indicate the echeveria has insufficient sunlight.
Here is a table summarising the most common problems with echeveria…
|Symptoms of Dying Echeveria:
|Reasons Your Echeveria is Dying:
|Echeveria Losing its Leaves:
|Lower leaves drop naturally as the plant matures. Sunburnt Leaves shrivel and drop off. Overwatering and poor drainage also result in echeveria losing leaves.
|Echeveria Growing Tall with Drooping Leaves:
|Not enough sunlight causes stretching. The leaves droop due to inadequate sunlight for photosynthesis.
|Echeveria Leaves Turning Yellow:
|Overwatering and poor drainage cause root rot. Cold temperatures and high humidity are often contributing factors.
|Echeveria Turning Purple:
|Some species of echeveria turn purple as the plant matures. Leaves can turn purple due to excessively high temperatures, or sunlight, cold temperatures, and due to drought stress.
Keep reading for how to implement the solutions to save your dying echeveria…
Why is My Echeveria Losing its Leaves? (Lower Leaves Dying From The Bottom Up)
I can assure you that Echeveria always loses its lower leaves as the plant matures. The lower leaves most often dry out before dropping off and dying.
I realize this can look as though your plant is dying, but this does not indicate that there is anything wrong with your echeveria, as it is a natural part of the plant’s life cycle.
The echeveria redirects its resources from the lower leaves to supporting and growing the new leaves as they are closer to a source of light.
The moisture and nutrients of the dying leaf are reabsorbed into the plant to preserve its resources.
As the leaves are reabsorbing the available nutrients in the leaf, I suggest that you do not try to remove them too early.
You can remove the leaves if they come away easily with some gentle manipulation, but if the plant is resisting, do not try to pull the dying leaf off, as this can cause unnecessary damage. You deny the plant the opportunity to reabsorb useful resources.
Echeveria Leaves Dying Due to Sun Burn
Echeveria grow best in full sun; otherwise, they tend to grow leggy, and the leaves droop. However, suppose you have moved the echeveria from an area of shade to an area of intense full sun without giving the echeveria a chance to adjust to the conditions. In that case, the echeveria’s leaves can burn.
The leaves may scorch yellow-brown, or sometimes I find they even turn purple, depending on the level of sunburn. Unfortunately, once the leaves have been scorched, they do not recover again.
As the leaves are scorched, they can no longer photosynthesize, and therefore, they cost the echeveria resources without contributing anything in return.
The echeveria then reabsorbs the available nutrients from the burnt leaves, which causes them to die back.
When this happened to my echeveria, the plant still survived as it was not scorched entirely, and you do not need to specifically do anything for the plant to revive other than ensure you take good care of it in terms of watering and sunlight, etc.
I can’t emphasize enough the importance of exposing the echeveria to more light gradually to give the plant time to acclimatize rather than move them straight into full sun.
I personally have had success with moving succulents into the full sun by moving the plant for 20 minutes or so more each day over the course of about 2 weeks.
The increased light intensity prevents the echeveria from turning leggy and stimulates the production of farina which is a natural white powdery substance that acts as a sun screen to prevent burning.
After the plant has adjusted to more sun, it does not get burnt and maintains a nice compact shape.
Leaves can also drop off due to overwatering and poor drainage. Scroll down to the section about leaves turning yellow for how to revive the echeveria, as the process is the same.
My Echeveria is Growing a Tall Stem and Drooping
Echeveria are succulents that have adapted to growing in open areas with full sun from Texas to Argentina.
Indoors, the echeveria has fewer hours of light, and if you do not live in a sunny climate, in a southerly latitude, then the light is not at the same intensity as it would be in its native environment. (See what I mean about the importance of understanding how echeverias grow in the wild?)
Even if the echeveria is on a window sill, it may not have enough light. This results in the echeveria elitotating, which causes it to grow tall and leggy as it stretches in search of more light.
The leaves also droop in appearance if they do not have enough light as they grow weak.
Echeverias need full sun to stay a compact size. In more northerly latitudes further away from the equator, the sun is often not intense enough for the echeveria’s requirements, even if they are located in a south-facing window.
The echeveria may also just have grown leggy as the plant matured as the lower leaves have died back.
How to Save it…
Once the echeveria has grown tall and the leaves have drooped, I have bad news… the plant cannot recover its original appearance.
The drooping leaves do not stand up again, even if the plant has been moved into full sun.
However, your plant can still be saved with some tactical pruning. The pruning process is best explained visually, so watch this excellent YouTube video for how to save a leggy, stretched echeveria with drooping leaves…
Once you have trimmed and propagated your echeveria, locate your plants in full sun, preferably on a south-facing window.
However, it is worth noting that some window sills have a very cold microclimate at night, which is unfavorable for the growth of the echeveria. My window sill in my apartment in New York was too cold for my echeveria in the Winter so I moved it to my bathroom.
If you live in a northerly latitude with fewer hours of daylight like me (particularly in Winter), then I recommend buying a grow light (available in garden centers or online) to supplement the amount of light to prevent your echeveria from developing a leggy appearance again.
Why is My Echeveria Leaves Turning Yellow?
- Symptoms: Leaves turn yellow or even translucent with a mushy texture. There may also be some brown or black discoloration of the stem, which may also feel mushy.
- Causes: Overwatering and slow-draining soils. Cold temperatures and high humidity are often contributing factors.
As I stated earlier, echeveria are prefer dry conditions compared to most houseplants.
Therefore the echeveria is prone to problems associated with overwatering and does not tolerate slow-draining soils that retain too much moisture around the roots.
Echeverias should only be watered when their potting soil is completely dry all the way to the bottom. If you are watering your echeveria more often than once a week, then this is the reason the leaves are turning yellow and dying.
The soil in the echeveria’s native environment is typically quite sandy or stony, which drains very quickly and does not hold onto moisture.
I find regular potting soil retains too much moisture for the echeveria’s roots to tolerate and usually results in root rot. (This is a common mistake that we all make with succulents!)
An overwatered echeveria has yellow or translucent leaves with a mushy texture. The stems may also feel soft and rotten. The leaves can also fall off due to overwatering.
High-humidity climates can also drastically reduce evaporation from the soil and transpiration from leaves, which can promote the conditions that cause rotting yellow leaves.
Cold temperatures in the Winter combined with fewer hours of sunlight can reduce the rate of growth of the echeveria, which reduces the demand for moisture.
If the roots are up taking less water then the soil can stay moist for too long and cause rot.
How to Save it…
Do not be alarmed! I have had to save many a succulent from overwatering with the following steps…
To save an overwatered echeveria, it is essential to replicate some of the conditions of its native environment by watering less often, planting it in well-draining, gritty potting soil, and locating the plant in full sun. It is often necessary to propagate the echeveria from any remaining healthy leaves.
- Wait until the soil has dried out completely before watering thoroughly. Echeveria are succulents that store water in their leaves to tolerate dry soil periodically without any problems. Overwatering is always a more serious threat to echeveria than underwatering due to its susceptibility to rot.
To establish when the soil is dry and, therefore when it is appropriate to water your echeveria without risking rot, you can:
- Feel the soil at the bottom of the pot through the drainage hole in the base to detect whether it is dry or still damp.
- Push a wooden stick or skewer into the soil to see if it is dry or still damp.
- Periodically judge the weight of the echeveria’s pot by picking it up after watering, as it should become much lighter as the soil dries.
- Reduce your rate of watering in Winter, as echeveria are typically dormant due to fewer hours of sunlight. Therefore the echeveria’s demand for moisture is much lower compared to active growth in the Spring and Summer. The lower demand means less moisture is drawn up through the roots, so the soil stays damp for longer and promotes the conditions for rot.
- Take the echeveria out of the pot and inspect the roots by shaking the soil off and running the roots under a tap (facet) to see the state of their roots. Healthy roots are white or perhaps light brown (slightly discolored from the soil) and feel firm, whereas overwatered roots appear brown and black with a soft, mushy texture and bad smell. Use sterile pruners to sip away any diseased, rotting root back to the base or back to the nearest healthy growth. Wipe the blades with a cloth soaked in disinfectant (I find hand gel is good to use for this) to kill any fungal pathogens and prevent them from spreading to healthy growth.
- Gently prise off any yellow mushy leaves. This prevents the rot from spreading to other parts of the echeveria. Use a pruning tool and cut the individual rotting leaf off if necessary.
- Replant the echeveria in special succulent and cacti soil. Succulent and cacti soil has a porous open structure (replicating the soil in the echeveria’s native environment) to allow excess water to drain efficiently to avoid problems with rot. Discard the old soil as it can harbor the fungal pathogens that caused the rot.
- Re-pot your echeveria in a clay or terracotta pot, as these materials are porous, which allows the soil to dry evenly. This helps to mitigate the risk of root rot. You can grow echeveria in plastic or ceramic pots. Still, clay and terracotta pots are my favorites because they are impermeable, so they retain more moisture and promote the conditions for rot.
- Keep the echeveria in a relatively warm room and preferably not the bathroom or kitchen as these rooms can have higher levels of humidity, which, is unfavorable for the echeveria. Window sills can get very cold at night in Winter which reduces the rate of evaporation from the soil and may even be colder than the Echeveria native habitat.
Once you have addressed the problems that have caused the leaves to turn yellow and rot and removed any diseased roots and leaves, then the echeveria can recover as long as it is watered more infrequently and located in bright sunlight.
However, if the rot begins to spread and the plant is dying, then I recommend watching the YouTube video for a tutorial on the different methods of propagating succulents to propagate the echeveria from any healthy leaves that are remaining:
Echeveria Leaves Turning Purple
- Symptoms: Leaves turning progressively more purple.
- Causes: Excess heat, light, and drought stress.
The photo above shows my Echeveria leaves turning purple because they are experiencing stress from excess heat, underwatering, excess sunlight, or cold temperatures.
In my case it was excess sunlight, heat and the fact that my echeveria had grow so much they were crowding each other out!
Some echeveria varieties turn purple as they mature, and this is a natural part of their coloration. The colour purple is due to the release of a pigment called anthocyanin which is an antioxidant that protects against stress.
This sometimes happens to echeveria plants if they have been moved from a relatively shaded area to one of harsh direct afternoon sunlight.
If the echeveria is in a window sill with afternoon sun, then the combination of high temperatures from absorbing the heat all day and the unrelenting sunlight can cause the leaves to turn purple to prevent the leaves from burning. This used to happen to my echeverias when I live in the hot and dry climate of South California.
The intense heat and light can also cause the soil to dry out too quickly for the roots to draw up moisture which adds to the stress that turns the leaves purple.
If none of these scenarios apply to your echeveria, it is worth checking the temperature at night to see if it is lower than 50°F (10°C) on a cold, draughty window sill, as this may be responsible for the leaves turning purple.
How to Save it…
The echeveria usually recovers if it has turned purple as it adjusts to its conditions. However, you may want to move the echeveria to a cooler spot and gradually expose it to more light if it has turned purple on a hot and sunny window sill.
Check the weight of the pot to see if the soil is dry (the pot should be much lighter when dry), and see if you need to adjust your watering schedule. Always water generously so that excess water trickles from the pot’s base.
In my experience, this is the best style of watering as it ensures that the water has effectively infiltrated the potting soil to reach the roots. The goal with watering is that the soil is evenly moist afterward, so do not water too lightly, as this can cause drought stress.
After the stress has decreased, the concentration of the anthocyanin pigment decreases, and the echeveria returns to its original color.
(Read my article, why is my Succulent dying?).
- Echeverias are particularly susceptible to root rot from overwatering or poor drainage. Root rot causes the echeveria’s leaves to turn yellow and soft, resulting in individual leaves rotting and dying.
- Echeveria leaves die at the base of the plant and drop off as the plant matures. This is a natural part of the echeveria’s life cycle and does not mean the plant itself is dying.
- Echeveria plants grow excessively tall and stretched if they do not have enough light. Echeveria needs to grow in full sunlight to maintain a compact shape. The leaves also droop downwards if they are in too much shade.
- Purple Echeveria leaves indicate the plant is stressed due to excess heat, sunlight, or cold temperatures or is suffering due to drought stress.
- To revive a dying echeveria, emulate some of the conditions of its natural habitat with full sunlight, and warm temperatures, plant it in well-draining soil and only water echeveria when the top inch of soil has dried out completely. Cut away any rotting roots or leaves to prevent the rot from spreading to healthy parts of the plant.
- It may be necessary to propagate any healthy remaining leaves or cuttings to revive the dying echeveria.